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The 10/25 Debate and Tragedy in Norway

July 26, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands, raiding group size

My sincere apologies for the delay in a new blog post. I’ve been quite busy of late with some personal matters. Also while I had prepared a nice blog about the progress race, it seems to need updating now with the changes of last week. If you’ve followed the raid progress, you know that Paragon downed the 25-man heroic Ragnaros on July 19th and went on to down heroic 10-man Ragnaros on the subsequent Friday (July 22nd). So until we have more completion in the progress race (with only Paragon having cleared all of the heroic content so far), I think I’ll hold off on my post about the progress race until more of it is said and done.

So there are couple things on my mind that I wanted to write about: recent events in Norway and the 10-man/25-man difficulty debate.

The Challenge of Difficulty and Comparing the 10- and 25-man raid

This issue seems alive and well, doesn’t it? I think as long as we have raiding instances that are identical in boss names, geography, and graphic design with their only variation being the scale of the fight as intended for 10 raiders or 25 raiders, we’ll feel compelled to compare. And looking at the fight’s difficulty level is the primary way in which we prefer to make that comparison.

As you can imagine (or may have read for yourself), Paragon’s decision to tackle both the 25-man and 10-man heroic content (and clear it all before anyone else) made an impact and prompted some reaction (mainly on mmo-champion but also on other community sites as well). Comments seemed to range from ‘wow, Paragon is awesome!’ to ‘why did they have to take it from the 10-man guilds’ to ‘Paragon was overgeared anyway so it doesn’t prove anything’.

Paragon claims they did it to gauge difficulty between the two raid group sizes. I think their decision to attempt both raid sizes was not just about gauging difficulty, however, but also about proving they can do both before anyone else (so perhaps others can’t claim down the road that Paragon’s world first was on the ‘easier’ version of the end boss?), and this appears to be a valid and understandable approach from a competitive standpoint. But when it comes to using what’s happened here to validly or objectively compare difficulty between Firelands-10 and Firelands-25 I think it becomes problematic. Without a doubt, what has happened lends important insight and perspective into the differences between the 10 and 25 versions, but as Paragon admitted, they had an advantage going into the 10-man fight having spent so much time learning Ragnaros on the 25-man version—so it could never be perfectly objective (nor am I convinced that Paragon is claiming that). They also, from what I can read, have avoided trying to suggest that they thought one fight was ‘better’ than another one or that a 25-man raiding group is ‘better’ than the smaller group–but like any boss fights, the mechanics will lend themselves better (or worse) with the different raid group sizes. Ahh doesn’t it feel a little bit like language (English, in this case) fails us? “Easier/harder”, “Different/different”–what best describes the difference without us falling into the trap of what’s better or worse and thus triggering these contentious responses? These are their posts:

http://www.paragon.fi/articles/10-vs-25-comparison
http://www.paragon.fi/news/10-man-vs-25-man-debate
http://www.paragon.fi/blogs/what-difficulty

So how do you gauge difficulty and how can you compare two completely different raid group sizes? Well I am not convinced we can ever really do this properly. Imagine, if you will, trying to compare the 800 metre and 3000 metre races in the track and field events:

  • They are both running events. (Same.)
  • They will require similar running gear. (Same.)
  • While each race has a strategy, how and when the runner applies that strategy varies significantly. (Not same.)
  • Often a runner’s training process for these events is quite different. (Not same.)

So yes, while these track and field events are both running events and both will often take place around the exact same track, how long they take, the strategies of the runners involved, and the ways in which runners prepare for these races differs greatly. I’m quite certain that most of us would not sit and have a big debate about whether the 3000m race is ‘harder’ or ‘more important’ than the 800m race. Of course we have preferences about what we might watch or prefer to follow and if we’re runners ourselves, we may think about what we could actually viably achieve and prefer doing, but I’m quite confident that a multi-page thread on ‘the 800m vs 3000m debate’ on a random runners’ Web site just would not happen (and please, don’t any of you go and start a thread like this just to be cheeky). What we’d probably more likely find is a discussion about whether the indoor/outdoor debate is valid or if certain training or running strategies are more valid. And if we want to get nitpicky about the ‘but some raiders are just better than others’, well the same thing applies in running. The simple fact that I am physically capable of running 800m or even 3000m does not mean you’ll be seeing me at the Olympics any time soon. There are great runners in both events, after all, and only the best will win.

So we turn back to the 10/25 raiding comparison debate. Can we actually set up an unbiased, measurable experiment to truly gauge difficulty? Can we really ever know perfectly what’s more or less difficult? Well, I’m not sure I can even sort out the problematics of the methodology, but here goes:

  • Blizzard would have to buy into this. We’d need them to help set up and design the test as it would need to involve certain game mechanics like allowing the same group of players to do two versions of the fight during the same period (to help minimise the ‘they had 500 wipes on the boss in 25-man but only 32 wipes on the 10-man version’ disparity).
  • We’d need the same group of players, or at least as closely similar as possible. This relates to a lesser extent to class, spec, and gear, and to a greater extent to skill set.
  • We’d need to run the test concurrently, or as close to concurrently as possible. To keep things fair (and avoid a stacking of wipes or attempts on one raid size) the test should be run simultaneously, which makes the previous element difficult to achieve unless we have…
  • Cloning. Yes, we’d probably need to clone the raid group.

I don’t mean to be a smarty pants here but I think ascertaining complete, unquestioned parity that everyone will be happy with may require cloning. And that may take a while for us to develop. But maybe one of you programming geniuses out there can design a simulation of the fights using virtual raiders… that could work. But I’d rather we invented teleportation first, honestly…

So from where I sit I believe this debate about ‘what raid size is more difficult or worthwhile’ seems like a somewhat futile endeavour. It will always come up as long as Blizzard opts to use this financially prudent approach to raid instance/boss design. Having to face the exact ‘same’ (sameness here referring to the fact that the boss does look the same and have the same name, but ‘same’ also hinting at the fact that it’s been adjusted to accommodate the two raid sizes and thus not exactly the same) boss in the exact same location but with two different raid size groups will always cause us to wonder what’s more legitimate or important as far as the difficulty issue goes. Comparison appears inevitable. And after all, difficulty is paramount when it comes to valuing the raid bosses. The competitive core of raiding wants to ‘win’ the race on what is considered the more difficult version of the most difficult fight. I believe that’s viewed as more satisfying. And for all intensive purposes, the more ‘difficult’ way to do it appears to be viewed as the 25-man raid composition. Whether that’s true or not is impossible to determine, but we do make a lot of decisions based on what we think about something versus what is actually happening. I think another reason this debate is alive and well is due to how Blizzard has opted to give achievements and, as a result, how player-run ranking sites lump together the 25-man and 10-man raiding guilds. And while the latter can be addressed by these sites to some extent, the former issue is really up to Blizzard and I honestly have no idea if they’d put any priority into resolving that particular issue.

And what we’re not even factoring into the ‘difficulty’ debate are things like skill, experience, play schedule preference, social commitments, raid composition, and other ‘messy’, intangible, and unpredictable details. Certainly something may seem a lot harder to master if I spend maybe 5 hours a month devoted to it versus if I spend 5 hours a night on it.

I would rather not engage in the heavy debate here about the 25- vs. 10-man raid but I think it’s interesting and probably inevitable that it will keep coming up for us–which is why I’ve posted all of this here. I did like what Synti wrote in one of the Paragon blogs over the 10/25 man debate in relation to how 10-man raiding keeps being regarded: “The competition in that bracket… is still in its infancy.” Maybe we just need to settle down and let 10-man raiding be 10-man raiding and 25-man be 25-man and stop trying to compare them or debate them. But… that’s too easy, isn’t it?

I’ll probably post more about this, but wanted to just get these initial thoughts down.

Tragedy in Norway and An Unwelcome Link to Gaming

First of all whenever a human being chooses to perpetuate acts of such violence such as what occurred on Friday in Norway, it is deeply saddening. I’ve spent quite some time in Norway myself and its calm and beauty are notable, as well as its good-natured and down-to-earth people. (My profile photo above was taken there.) It feels particularly disappointing that in a place that is regarded as so developed and advanced (according to the UN, Norway had the top-ranked Human Development Index in the world in 2010: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/NOR.html), something like this could happen. I suppose it just proves (as many would remind me) that nowhere is immune. And add to this the fact that I’ve spent my time in recent years studying a fun and uplifting thing like a game—with its environment that is all about community, game play, skill, competition, and teamwork—and when I learned that the suspect in custody had manipulated (in his rambling ‘manifesto’) WoW gameplay and even suggested using it as a kind of ‘cover’ while planning his activities, well I admit I was disheartened. We have a hard enough time providing the non-gaming world with a realistic picture of what the gaming community is really like (with its pros and cons, not just the cons), and this kind of madness could potentially just reinforce the anti-gaming sentiment that’s alive and well out there. Of course, the attack suspect made other equally outrageous suggestions—like pretending you are questioning your sexual identity as a way to get people to ‘leave you alone’ or investing in a farm in order to acquire goods in an allegedly legitimate way—so I ought not to be overly disturbed by his links to gaming, but it is still disappointing. I’m sure the media will spend more time on it at some point, but so far the bigger, more troubling elements of his actions appear to be taking centre stage. What a horrible, sad thing. :(

3 Comments to “The 10/25 Debate and Tragedy in Norway”


  1. I’m sure you brought up cloning as a way to demonstrate how absurd the whole situation is instead of literally meaning that that’s what it takes to get an objective comparison of the two difficulties. But we can take this thought experiment further, so let’s actually assume that yes, we have the means to clone people. So we try to setup an experiment to find out, as objectively as possible, which one of 10-man or 25-man is harder. And let’s only focus on one fight at a time, obviously the end result can be, and almost certainly is, different for each fight. We won’t even try to tackle the question of what the overall conclusion regarding difficulty should be when some fights go one way and some the other way.

    So we have the means to have a group of 25 people do one boss fight and the exact same people do a 10-man version of the same fight, at the same time. But wait, how can a group of 25 people be the same as a group of 10 people? So there’s our first problem, which 10 people of the 25-man group are we cloning for the 10-man group?

    We can solve this by having a pool of, say a hundred, players for each raid size. Each class and spec is represented multiple times so you can do as much class stacking as you want to. Then we clone the whole pool for each raid size. But we quickly get into many more annoying problems. How are the 10 or 25 people in the final raid chosen? How skilled are the people in the player pool? The skill of raiders also affects what kind of tactics the raid leader might employ. How does the raid leader behave for that matter? Is he or she able to immediately figure out the perfect strategy and then just wait until the execution of it goes right or would several different tactics be tried? Obviously the conditions are different in different raid sizes and so we can’t just say that all these work exacty the same in both cases. If we were dealing with real people we could just put them in the experiment and see what happens. But then you could argue that maybe they had more experience dealing with one raid size or the leader was more capable to lead a smaller number of people. So we need to make some (possibly unrealistic) assumptions how the people behave and try to make these assumptions as fair for each raid size as possible. And how you could determine that the assumptions are fair isn’t at all clear.

    One other important question is, how do we actually determine the winner in this? First thing that comes to mind is that both raid sizes start working at the same time on a boss fight they’ve never seen before and whichever kills it first is the winner and that raid size is determined to be the easier of the two. But what about randomness, maybe the winner of the race just got lucky with their kill. Ok, let’s repeat the experiment a number of times, each time with a cloned group that hasn’t seen the fight before, and then take some kind of an average of all the kills.

    After all that, where are we then? We have a big pool of some kind of model raiders and a raid leader and one raid for each raid size and we’re doing the experiment multiple times to minimise random effects. In other words we have a simulation! Not a simulation you could immediately run in a computer as we still haven’t even touched the fight mechanics or gone into specifics about how the people behave. But if we had done all that, what could we get out of this simulation? Sorry to say but we’d get pretty much nothing out of it. Or we’d sure get something, probably something quite interesting in fact, but it certainly isn’t what we were looking for: the final answer to the question of which raid size is easier.

    As with all simulations, we can adjust the parameters, that is the behavior of the raiders and the likelihood of making mistakes and the fight itself. And we’d get different results with different parameters. The simulation is only a model of an extremely complex real life system and is never going to capture more than some simple aspects of it. And even if it did manage to fully model a real raiding team, the final answer would still depend on the people involved. In other words, depending on the people we start with, we might come to the conclusion that the 25-man is easier or that the 10-man is easier. Even the word easier might not be suitable here. Rather we could say that with these starting conditions it is, on average, faster to kill this boss in this raid size. After all, being able to kill something faster doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually easier.

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  2. DiamondTear says:

    Never underestimate the value of the wowprogress.com rank for any guild trying to recruit or compete, even if it’s only with other guilds on the same realm.

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  3. Here’s a different perspective in response to the multitudes wondering why raiders can’t get over this issue.

    I think that one of the great attractions of games like WoW is the way accomplishment is quantified with extreme detail. If you get something done in the real world, it is not always clear what exactly improved for you by doing it, other than perhaps a vague notion of its place in a larger ongoing process of personal growth. This can be seen most clearly in the attitudes of people in dead-end jobs, or other situations they feel aren’t taking them anywhere and they can’t always get out of. At such times, even the ‘vague notions’ can abandon people, leaving them with an empty void inside.

    In contrast, WoW provides players with a clear sense of direction, purpose and accomplishment. You know exactly where to go, what to do and once you’ve accomplished your task, you can state with absolute certainty what you gained from it. And most importantly in this case, they know exactly where they stand in regards to others. I think this sense of ultimate clarity is one of the most addicting aspects of WoW for many people.

    Considering all this, it’s no small wonder that many raiders are unable to accept the ambiguity of raid difficulty, it simply goes against the very nature of the game that has become a part of them.

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